Maersk Oil turns to aerial drones as part of its inspection programme in the gruelling environment of the North Sea.
Maersk North Sea drone

High-flying helpers are proving to be cheaper, more efficient and offering a boost to safety in the offshore oil and gas industry, where they are becoming the frontline inspection technology of choice.

Denmark-headquartered Maersk Oil has begun using drones as part of its inspection regime in its Danish and UK operations. Drones have been deployed to inspect flare tips on offshore rigs, which previously would have involved helicopters and photographers.

“Usually we need to stay a longer distance away with deterioration of image quality as a result,” explained Troels Føgh Sørensen, maintenance lead in Maersk Oil’s Danish Business Unit. “The drone allows us to get close to the flare tip even with the flare up. So we get better information to determine our structural and process integrity.”

Improved data and the improved quality of assessment it brings is just one of the benefits the company has found from using drones. Drone inspection comes in at less than half the cost of a full-blown helicopter excursion, plus it also requires less personnel, freeing up valuable bed spaces on the rigs. Crucially in a safety-conscious industry such as oil and gas, drones can help reduce exposure to risk for those who would once have done the inspections manually. The company has recently used drones for an inspection of a four-story tank on Gryphon - a floating production vessel that produces from three oil fields in the UK sector of the North Sea.

“Usually we would do this using a rope access team of four people, and it would take more than a day to do what we can do in minutes with a drone,” said Maersk Oil’s Peter Burridge. “We have done several technical adjustments and tests of the drone, and these allowed us to fly the drone within the tank to take the video and pictures we needed. The drone even allows the inspector to see the images during flight and within minutes they can be sent to onshore colleagues for review.”

These positive experiences so far are just a start for the company, which is using the information gained to spread the benefits of drone applications throughout the business. It is hoped the technology can be adapted to suit other inspection opportunities in the near future.